Measles Prevention

by Michael_Koger

Despite much progress in the control of measles, many outbreaks still occur worldwide.

Measles is a highly contagious viral illness which spreads between humans via physical contact and airborne transmission through coughing, sneezing, laughing, and talking. The responsible virus is a single-stranded enveloped RNA with one serotype. Prior to availability of the vaccine in the sixties, several million people in the United States acquired the illness every year [1, 2, 3].

Worldwide, approximately 20 million people currently get the infection each year, and it leads to death in 146,000 individuals [2].

By the turn of the 21st century, the United States declared the disease eliminated. Elimination means the infection is not present very much anymore in a geographic area of the globe. That is not synonymous with eradication, in which there are no cases anywhere in the world as is the case with smallpox [1, 2].

Developing Countries

Measles to our knowledge only occurs in humans as there are no other natural hosts for the virus.  It is still quite prevalent in poor countries though there has been much progress in the administration of the vaccine around the world.  In any event, this medical condition is one of the leading causes of death among small children less than five years of age [1, 2, 3]. 

In countries where infrastructures are inadequate, vaccination is not always possible, and death from the disease is most common there.  The risk for acquisition of the infirmity is also quite high when natural disaster or conflict takes place because these residents tend to reside in camps where there is crowding [3].

Effective Immunity

Nevertheless, the measles vaccine has been available for more than a half century either as a single agent or in combination with mumps, rubella, and varicella.  It is effective, inexpensive, and safe, and most healthy people who complete the series will be immune from that disease for the rest of their lives [1, 2, 3].

It is only in special circumstances, such as with health care workers, that revaccination is necessary as in the case of an unusual outbreak which may pose a risk of further acquisition or spread of this illness [1, 2].

Those who have acquired this illness—and this has been quite common in people who were born prior to 1957— have natural immunity from it for the lifetime.  As effective as the vaccine is, natural immunity provides an even better protection than vaccination.  Of course, this assumes that the patient survives the medical condition, as many of these clients have done [1, 2, 3].

Prior to 1957, many suffered from childhood infectious diseases such as mumps, rubella, and chicken pox, but they subsequently developed lifelong immunity to those infections. 


There has been much progress in the control of measles across the globe, and further efforts to administer the vaccine will lower morbidity and mortality from it.


  1. Centers for Disease Control.  (2015).  Measles (Rubeola).  Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  2. Kumar, D. and Sabella, C.  (2015).  Measles:  Back again.  Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 83, 340-344.
  3. World Health Organization.  (2016).  Measles.  Fact Sheet.  Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  4. The photo shows a child with measles rash on the third day of the disease course.  Reprinted with permission from U.S. Centers for Disease Control.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.

Updated: 06/08/2016, Michael_Koger
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